Monday, May 04, 2009

Best location in the nation

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and knew it before the Cuyahoga River caught fire. Prior to it becoming the inspiration for Randy Newman's "Burn on Big River" the Chamber of Commerce touted Cleveland as "The Best Location in the Nation". After the Cuyahoga erupted in flames and Lake Erie was declared biologically dead, Cleveland was transformed into "The Mistake on the Lake".

The recently discovered robust wind resource that flows over Lake Erie now make Cleveland one the best locations in the nation for offshore wind energy development -- at least among the Great Lake states . (GW)

Wind Turbines on Lake Erie Could Cost up to $93 Million

By Tom Breckenridge
Cleveland Plain Dealer
May 1, 2009

St. Louis has the Gateway Arch. Seattle has the Space Needle. Cleveland has . . . wind turbines on Lake Erie?

That's the iconic vision that could lead to a new industry in offshore wind and possibly thousands of new jobs, leaders of a Cuyahoga County energy task force say.

The vision is a costly one: from $78 million to $93 million to erect three to eight wind turbines on the lake.

That's according to a yearlong feasibility study the task force released Friday in a media briefing at the Great Lakes Science Center.

The task force chairman acknowledges he was staggered by the costs.

But Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason said the region has a lot to lose if it doesn't make the big bet.

The task force would like to see the turbines up within three years, if not sooner.

"We are in a race with the rest of the Midwest," Mason said of establishing an off-shore wind industry here. "Whoever gets in the water first wins the race."

With release of the feasibility study, the task force -- a collection of city, county, civic and business leaders -- indicated it will file soon for state and federal permits to erect the turbines in Lake Erie.

The turbines and their looping blades would be clearly visible three miles out from Cleveland's shoreline.

But the task force and Cuyahoga County commissioners won't make a final commitment to the project if county residents don't like it.

The task force plans to meet with community groups over the next three to four months, Mason said.

Little opposition has emerged. The task force kept a low profile the last two-plus years while it researched the potential for an off-shore wind industry.

Release of the feasibility study now puts the radical proposal -- first floated by Cleveland Foundation President Ronn Richard -- in the spotlight.

The task force paid a team led by juwi GmbH, a German company, $1 million to study the technical, environmental, regulatory and financial issues in erecting a turbine demonstration project, along with affiliated centers to research, test and certify components for the off-shore wind industry.

"The study confirms it's technically feasible, even if the lake freezes over," Ralf Krueger, chief executive of juwi's American company, told a crowd of 60 at the science center.

The project's cost is drawing the most questions. Mason emphasized that county taxpayers will not be asked to bear the project's price tag.

Without subsidies, electricity from the pilot project would cost 23 cents per kilowatt-hour, Mason said.

That's hardly competitive. Electricity from Ohio's land-based turbines cost 7 to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, and 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour for coal.

But Mason said the cost could be halved with grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, federal stimulus money and the state of Ohio.

Too, the task force is pushing for more incentives in Ohio's energy policy to encourage use of off-shore wind.

Investment tax credits could drive private investment.

M. Torres Group, a company based in Pamplona, Spain, is talking with state development officials about investing millions of dollars in the project, possibly working out of a warehouse on Cleveland's port, west of Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Mason said he has talked with a half dozen large, local companies about investing in the project.

He would not identify them. But Tim Timken, head of the Timken Corp., voiced his support for the project at the media briefing.

Timken already earns tens of millions of dollars supplying bearings to turbine makers. Ohio has hundreds of companies supplying parts to the wind industry, the task force reported.

The pilot turbine project would be a "loss leader ," Richard said.

But the task force must maintain its lead position in the race to harness off-shore wind, as entities in New York, Michigan and Ontario push forward with competing studies and projects, he said.

"We need the public and the business community to get behind this," said Richard, whose Cleveland Foundation has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the task force effort. "Being second, third or fourth will bring us nothing. . . . This is a well-thought-out risk."

The project "has the potential to dramatically change the economic landscape of the region," said Norman Tien, dean of the engineering school at Case Western Reserve University.

The school kicked in $200,000 for the feasibility study. It's new energy institute is studying wind and ice issues on the lake.

Previous studies found wind speeds over the lake averaging more than 16 mph, the strongest recorded anywhere in Ohio. That means winds over the lake would crank more power than winds over land.

A small turbine array would have little effect on birds, the feasibility study found. Migrating species fly at heights above the turbines, the study said.

Nor will the project have big effects on fish and other underwater life, the study said.

The threat of lake ice would be lessened with the turbine design. An inverted cone at water level could divert ice floes, the study said.


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